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ArtClokey1986 - Gumby Found

ArtClokey1986 - Gumby Found

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Published by Mike Harkins
In this newly discovered and never published 1986 interview, Art Clokey, creator of Gumby, talks about his life, from the inspiration for Gumby (his father) to deeply moving recollections of being given up for adoption by his mother, his LSD therapy sessions, and his encounters with an Indian guru. Happy 90th birthday, Art!
In this newly discovered and never published 1986 interview, Art Clokey, creator of Gumby, talks about his life, from the inspiration for Gumby (his father) to deeply moving recollections of being given up for adoption by his mother, his LSD therapy sessions, and his encounters with an Indian guru. Happy 90th birthday, Art!

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Categories:Types, Comics
Published by: Mike Harkins on Oct 12, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Last year as I waded through a pile of stuff in a box
that had been buried in my home ofce closet, I found anold manila envelope. I couldn’t tell what was inside thisenvelope addressed to myself,in my handwriting, with a 1986
 postmark. I was intrigued as I pulled out the TYPEWRITTEN pages.
Man, I’m old.The envelope was an SASE,an acronym known to everyfreelance writer: a self-addressed
stamped envelope. While the
majority of today’s agents,
editors and publishers use email
for queries and communications,there are still a few who acceptthings through the mail, and this ever- present acronym has been part of theeditor’s lexicon for ages: “...if you
want your materials returned please
enclose an SASE...”That’s what I had in myhand, a copy of “Gumby’sDad” that had been returned
to me from a now unknown
 publication.This is the second timeI’ve stumbled across something‘decades’ old that I believed was
worthy of sharing with the world
at large. In 2002, my discovery
in the garage of a small paper 
 bag with several old reel-to-reelaudio recording tapes became astory for National Public Radioabout my mother’s voice.Again, I had found my own
kind of buried treasure.
At a party back in San Francisco in 1984 or ‘85, I hadmet a friend of Art Clokey’s daughter, Holly, and I don’tremember how it came up, but there was a mention of Gumby, which led to my introduction to Holly, and movedto a request (insistent request, I’m sure) to speak with Art.
I eventually spoke to him on
the phone and he graciouslygranted me, a edglingfreelance writer, an afternoonto come and interview him at
home.I had no market in mind
for an article about Gumbyand Art, and I certainly hadno editor chomping at the bitto receive my story. I simplyhad to interview Art because,well, hell, man, it was Gumby’sdad. I was and continue to bea cartoon fan(atic). My ‘major’ in artschool had been animation, lm and
 photography (I dropped out during my
second year to go on the road with a band...which is how I ended upin Northern California), and ArtClokey was a pioneer. Once Idiscovered not only that I had
only one degree of separationfrom him and that he lived and
worked within a couple of milesfrom where I lived, I wouldhave nagled my way into his
life no matter what.I had no idea what to
expect, so it follows that I had
no idea he would be so openabout his life. While I have
my own critique about howwell written the story is, or isn’t, the content is objectivelyremarkable. While there may now be an adequate collectionof biographical information available, there wasn’t much if 
My Lost Gumby Interview - Originally titled “Gumby’s Dad,” written by a very young writer in 1986
 Above, the original “Gumby Found.” Below,the extended Gumby family
Gumby Found
by Michael W. Harkins
anything this revealing about Art’s lifeat the time. He shared intimate, at timesdeeply painful memories, recounting
having been given up for adoption by his
mother, his daughter’s suicide, his LSDtherapy sessions, and his encounter with
an Indian guru.
That may have actually contributedto my inability to sell the nal article,which I attempted to place with at leasta half-dozen major publications. I don’tknow where those boilerplate rejectionletters are now, but I do recall that eachof them had included a note from theeditor as to how much everyone likedGumby, but didn’t think the articlewas right for the publication.That’s all part of the freelancer’slearning process (no change in that atall from then to now), as is the other mistake I made withthe article: a book on Art and Gumby was published a year after my interview, and because of that I thought no onewould be interested in the article, so I ‘shelved’ it. Note to beginning freelancers: that was a bonehead
move. The additional interest and exposure of the book 
to the public actually would have helped generate moreinterest in the article, an element of getting published that is
still relevant today.
Sadly, I discovered that Art had died just a few months before I rediscovered this story, but after deciding that Iwould put it out to the world with only slight revisions, Iwas able to nd Holly Harman, Art’s daughter (amazingly,she was only a few miles up the highway from me), now adesigner and illustrator, and let her know about the story.We met for lunch and talked about Art, her brother Joe(who keeps Gumby alive via all things Gumby at www.gumbyworld.com), and her own contribution to the Gumbylegacy over the last few years as author of several originalGumby story books, published by Chronicle Books andthrough her own imprint (www.harmanpublishing.com).I’ve been lucky throughout my life to have hadmultiple, as David Letterman says, Brushes with Greatness,
and my short but immersive time with Art Clokey is way
up the list. It’s my pleasure to share
this with everyone on what would
have been Art’s 90th birthday.
Gumby’s DadAn interview with the creatorof the world’s best known littlegreen guybyMichael W. Harkins
His children’s televisionshow was a hit in the mid-fties,merchandise he inspired over twenty years ago continues togrow in popularity, and a multi-
million dollar movie is in theworks.
 Not bad, for a little green guy named Gumby.Many people know Gumby from early TV episodes,while others remember Gumby as the cute toy whichturned and twisted into endless shapes and poses. There’salso a huge group that knows television’s Saturday NightLive version of Gumby, with Eddie Murphy channeling a bombastic, Bizarro World version of everything the littleguy isn’t. Now, as a new generation discovers the Gumby andall his friends (including Pokey, his orange horse), most of his fans know little if anything about Gumby’s origins, or about the remarkable life of Gumby’s creator, Art Clokey.
(A note from 2011: I believe I interviewed Art at hishouse in Mill Valley, California, but I can’t be certain, and  I don’t know why I chose to leap into the interview without mentioning where it took place. Based on conjecture and objective evaluation of myself as a young writer, I concludethat I was just so dang pleased that Art agreed to theinterview, and because I was still learning what the hell I was doing, that there’s no particular reason.The lesson here for new writers is to realize that the spaces in which people live and work can provideinsights into a subject’s life and personality. Including those observations is important and often enlightening. Myapologies for this aside; let’s resume.)
Art Clokey is one part silver-haired English teacher,one part philosopher, with a dose of court jester thrown into keep things lively. His voice is soft and his clear blueeyes dart back and forth as he speaks.Gumby’s animated adventures rst appeared ontelevision in 1956. Arising from bedtime stories told tohis then nine-year old daughter, Ann, Gumby’s adventuresremained pure from imagination to TV screen because of 
Gumby Found, copyright 2011, M.W. Harkins2
Holly Harman, Art Clokey’s step-daughter, now an author of new Gumby stories, artist anddesigner in Northern California
Keeper of all things Gumby, son Joe Clokey, ArtClokey, and daughter Holly Harman
their unaltered content.“NBC saw the pilot lm, was immediately taken by itand signed us up,” says Art Clokey.“I had complete freedom,” Art points out. “Verysimple: no committees, no executives, no test audiences. Onthe network they went.”The show was popular, but shortly after Gumby’s rstseason an executive shakeup at NBC brought the axe downon several projects, and Gumby was one of them.“They cut children’s programming. They didn’t want tocut-out Howdy Doody, that was doing real well at the time.Fortunately, I got free from my contract and I was able to buy back the lms.”Free from the network, Art was approached by theLutheran Church and asked to create a religious children’sseries. Combining puppets with the claymation techniquesdeveloped for Gumby, Art produced the “Davey andGoliath” series, a Christian boy-and-his-lion story. But the
 bond between Art and his tiny green friend remained strong.
“I plowed the Davey and Goliath money into newGumby lms, expanding the series from 20 episodes to130.”Despite Gumby’s early success and Art’s persistence,the early sixties held little promise for the duo’s future.Art went through a divorce and Gumby had only moderateairplay in syndication.“At that point I was trying to redistribute the series
myself. New ones I had made. It was hard to get into the
stations because at that time there was a glut of cartoonsfrom the big studios. They were opening up their vaults,sweetening deals for their half-hour adult series by throwingin cartoons.”Art sums up his situation at the time: “I was going broke.”In desperation, Art moved into a realm of businesshe had managed to avoid since Gumby’s inception — merchandising. Art created the Gumby rubber toy.“I didn’t like the idea. I didn’t like the idea of manipulating children to buy things.”The Gumby doll debuted in 1964, rst in Los Angelesthen New York. Sales were tremendous, the doll an instantsuccess.Art licensed a manufacturer to make and distribute thetoy. This allowed him to offer TV stations the Gumby show, plus revenues from commercial advertising of the new toy.
The result?
“Within six months the Gumby series were all over thecountry, ninety-some stations. That was what got it going — the toy is what enabled me to make a living.”For the next twenty years Art and Gumby traversedthe peaks and valleys of life and business, from the highsof Hollywood living to the lows of family tragedy. Art became as resilient as his elastic green friend in overcomingobstacles and learning from them. Now, a Gumby renaissance has resurrected thediminutive adventurer to star status, with appearances onSaturday Night Live and national commercials. Gumbydolls now share shelf space with everything from GumbyT-shirts to ink pads.An astonishing result, considering Gumby’s simple
“We’re trying to keep the merchandise and toys fromdistorting him. It’s hard but we try. It’s going to increase,and in a way I don’t like it, but I can’t avoid it.”Gumby continues to grow in a manner Art never imagined, and this includes the evolution of Gumby’s
adventures through the years. After reviewing many
episodes, Art discovered a strong symbolic similarity between his life and Gumby’s stories.“I was exposing my psyche before the world, to anyonethat could read fantasies or dreams. I had full control of  production, full control of direction and writing. Gumby is areection of my life.”
Art now lives in southern California with his wife
Gloria, a far cry from Detroit and the brown-shingle housewhere he was born. His fondest childhood memories areof summers spent on grandfather’s farm, where he had hismost “blissful experiences”.“I’d go every summer for about three months. It was acustom. My mother and father liked to get out of the city.”The trips came to an abrupt halt when he was nineyears old. “My parents divorced. My father, within a year,was killed in an auto accident. I was stranded in Detroit. Mymother married this fellow who became a football coach in
“They had just had a child and my sister lived withthem. I came out to live with them and (the man) gave mymother an ultimatum — to either get rid of me or he wouldgo.”Art’s resemblance to his deceased father was too muchfor the man to bear, because “he was paranoid and guiltridden. He had been a policeman in Detroit and we hadrented a room to him at the start of the depression. He endedup taking my mother away while my father was off on two-week vacation in Boston.”Art recalls the turmoil in his childhood, amazed asanyone at the circumstances of his situation.“My mother was on the horns of a dilemma. She had anew child, she didn’t want the man to leave, so, she put meup for adoption. She placed me in a home for children intransit.”He stayed with several other children under the care
Gumby Found, copyright 2011, M.W. Harkins

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